AIM: start

MON, 14 JAN 2002 01:52:19 GMT

The Hague Tribunal vs. Belgrade

Hostages of Carla del Ponte

Only after the citizens of Serbia come face to face with themselves, i.e. the things done in their name, will Serbia be able to face the Hague Tribunal and cease being a puppet in the hands of Ratko Mladicís war buddies and Slobodan Milosevicís devotees

AIM Belgrade, December 25, 2001

Are Yugoslav Army Chief of Staff, general Nebojsa Pavkovic, and the Chief of Public Security, police major general Sreten Lukic, under an investigation of the Hague Tribunal? Is the former Bosnian Serb Army commander, General Ratko Mladic, being guarded from the Tribunal by some eighty soldiers of the Yugoslav Army (JA) in an army barracks somewhere in Serbia? Who is to be the next inmate of the penitentiary complex in Scheveningen - a truly big fish of the former regime or some petty military or governmental figure left over from the wars fought?

Reverberations of such questions keep sending shock waves through the political soil of Serbia. When the Deputy Head Prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal Graham Bluit announced that Generals Pavkovic and Lukic are "under investigation", i.e. that they have been designated as "the participants of a joint criminal undertaking" in the Kosovo indictment against Milosevic and that they too "might be indicted, but not necessarily so", the president of Yugoslavia, Vojislav Kostunica, hastened to declare that such statements "have a negative impact on the stability of the country at a time when stability is of utmost importance to it."

While the terrain was still reverberating from the impact of the "detonation" caused by the case of the two generals, a fresh explosion shook the media: citing anonymous sources from within the Serbian government, Reuters carried the news that the former commander of the Bosnian Serb Army, General Ratko Mladic, is hiding from the Hague Tribunal in an army compound somewhere in Belgrade. The assurances of Pavkovic and Lukic that they had strictly adhered to the provisions of domestic laws governing the state of war and rules proscribed by international legislature failed to calm things down. The same holds true for the official denial of the Yugoslav federal authorities discarding any notion of granting Mladic a safe haven within Yugoslavia and the subsequent rebuttal of Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic that the whole thing was just another attempt at destabilizing his reform-minded government.

In short, all of this only goes to prove that the war crimes tribunal in the Hague is a political factor of utmost importance in Serbia and FRY - regardless of what local politicians might like to believe.

There are several reasons for this at the moment. The first and foremost being the conflict between Djindjic's Democratic Party (DS) and Kostunicaís Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS). As far as the cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is concerned, Djindjic and his followers clearly favor the option of extradition stipulated by sheer political necessity and carried out in line with the direct application of the Hague War Crimes Tribunal Statute, while DSS is pleading that this highly sensitive matter be regulated by a law yet to be passed. If handing Milosevic over did not exactly "close the case" for Djindjicís government, neither can it be said that Kostunica and his associates overworked themselves over the regulatory rules that are to govern the cooperation with the Hague: while it appeared as if the former Yugoslav president was extradited solely for the sake of foreign donations, at the same time it was quite evident that DSS was, in a ostrich-like manner, burying its head in the sand concerning the whole matter. In any case, both sides have discovered an almost ideal testing range for their skirmishes and mutual imputations, whatever the price and however long it may last, until the utter exhaustion of the opposing side.

The said conflict is reflected in the division of law-enforcement and army forces as well: the army is controlled by Kostunica, the police by Djindjic. Essentially, both political blocks headed by these two have an aversion towards the cadres molded to suit Milosevicís needs they inherited from the former regime. While it is true that neither the army nor the police could overthrow the present government on their own, they do have the power to shake it up considerably as the recent rebellion of the police Special Forces Corps ("Red Berets") demonstrated, the reason behind the revolt being precisely the extradition to the Hague. This is why the present authorities are trying to avoid tinkering with the past biographies and deeds of the army and police officials at all cost; that is why it is yet unknown precisely who and under whose orders transported the bodies of ethnic Albanians killed in Kosovo to Serbia in refrigerated trucks; that is why no one knows exactly what Generals Pavkovic and Lukic were doing in Kosovo or who safeguarded the sojourns and movements of General Mladic in Serbia in all the years since 1995. For, as is well known, the topmost Bosnian Serb Army officer did live in Belgrade in a villa guarded by the military police and if he has left the capital in the meantime, the State Security Service, the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MUP) and the army intelligence service should certainly know when and how this happened. Due to all this, the country has become a veritable hostage of the Head Prosecutor of the Hague Tribunal, Karla del Ponte - since such questions simply need to be put by someone, that someone gets to chose the moment that suits him best to do so.

Nevertheless, the root of the problem lies in an attempt to curry favor with the assumed public opinion. The cooperation with the Hague Tribunal is being represented as a form of political pressure - unavoidable and at the same time unjust. The present authorities have not made a serious attempt to establish where the responsibilities for the decade of wars lie as of yet. The causes for this are manifold. There is a little bit of everything to it: from a guilty conscience for flirting with nationalism in its most deadly version, participating in Milosevicís regime and the passing over to the other side only after falling out of favor in the sudden reversals of his politics, a belief that his goals were just but the means chosen wrong, a feeling of a great injustice done by the sufferings inflicted upon Croat and Kosovo Serbs, the harm done by the NATO intervention - up to the need to keep things nice and calm on the political scene so as to finally make possible the necessary economic and institutional reforms...The bottom line being: fear of the electorate and the possibility of being labeled as a traitor of the nation. To tell the truth, the biased and over-zealous interpretations of the immediate past coming from certain circles lately merely enable all sorts of nationalists to score cheap political points.

So, what is to be done?

For starters, all those occupying high posts in the army and the police during Milosevicís regime should be called to account for their actions during the wars fought in Croatia, B&H and Kosovo. So as not take their words for granted, the opening of the secret files from the period would be necessary. Likewise, the local judiciary should, at the least, finally establish the perpetrators and those giving orders for some of the most notorious crimes - such as the refrigerated trucks full of corps transported from Kosovo to Serbia proper and the kidnapping and disappearance of the passengers of non-Serb origin from the train traveling from Belgrade to Bar in Strpci in 1993.

For, only after the citizens of Serbia find the strength to come face to face with their own conscience, i.e. all the things done in their name, will Serbia be able to face the Hague Tribunal and once for all cease being a hostage of Ratko Mladic's war buddies and Slobodan Milosevicís devotees.